Thursday, 28 April 2011

FILICIDE (multiple): Scotland: Theresa Riggi sentenced

Theresa Riggi
Theresa Riggi, 47, who was sentenced to 16 years in jail for stabbing her three children to death. Illustration: Grampian police/PA

A mother who admitted stabbing her three children to death at their home in Edinburgh after a bitter custody dispute has been jailed for 16 years.
Theresa Riggi, 47, originally from California, pleaded guilty in March to killing her children – eight-year-old twins Austin and Gianluca, and their sister Cecilia, five – at their home in west Edinburgh.
She stabbed each of them eight times and then allegedly tried to cover up their deaths with a gas explosion, before trying to kill herself by leaping out of their second-floor flat. Riggi was facing court action for custody by her estranged husband, Pasquale Riggi, an oil industry engineer in Aberdeen.
Passing sentence at the high court in Glasgow, Lord Bracadale told Riggi she had subjected her children to "a truly disturbing degree of violence" and was guilty of a "ghastly and grotesque" act.
The judge said Riggi had "a genuine but abnormal and possessive love" for her children.
The court heard in March that Riggi suffered from narcissistic, paranoid and hysterical personality disorders, had refused to allow her husband to share a bed with her and the children, and had been increasingly possessive. The couple separated soon after Cecilia was born.
Psychiatrists did not, however, believe she was mentally ill, the judge said. "The result of these acts is a devastating family tragedy. The father of the children, Pasquale Riggi, and the wider family, have been left utterly bereft by the loss of the children."
The prosecution accepted Riggi's plea of culpable homicide, the Scottish version of manslaughter, on the basis of diminished responsibility in March. Charges accusing her of recklessly causing an explosion by tampering with her home's gas cooker were set aside.
Bracadale said this plea and her mental state did not absolve her of blame. "The effect of the diminished responsibility is to reduce these crimes from what would have been exceptionally wicked crimes of murder to what are still very serious crimes of culpable homicide," he said.
"The number and nature of the stab wounds to each child is indicative of a truly disturbing degree of violence, which, in order to bring about the deaths of three children, must have been sustained over a significant period of time.
"It is difficult to envisage the physical commission of such acts. Dr Crichton [a psychiatrist] considers that the degree of violence and the sustained nature of it are inexplicable in terms of your disorder of the mind.
"It is clear that any degree of responsibility for such ghastly and grotesque acts must be visited with a lengthy sentence of imprisonment."
Outside the court, in a statement read out on his behalf by David Sinclair, of Victim Support Scotland, Pasquale Riggi said his children's deaths would leave an "indelible mark on the rest of his life".
He added: "They were such wonderful, energetic, bright and happy children. Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Cecilia, Luke and Austin looked forward to watching them grow.
"There is no justification for this heinous crime, repeated three times, nor is there any sentence that can provide justice for the overwhelming loss of three lives and the subsequent painful grief and devastation caused to surviving family and friends."
Bracadale said that Riggi would have been sentenced to 18 years in prison, but he added a discount of two years following her guilty plea. He told Riggi she would be deported as soon as her sentence was completed, and placed on the child protection register.
The children's bodies were discovered side by side minutes after a gas explosion at their home in Slateford, west Edinburgh. Passersby saw Riggi clamber over the second-floor balcony of the building and throw herself off. Her fall was broken by a neighbour, who managed to push her falling body on to a parked car. Riggi had several self-inflicted wounds.
Donald Findlay QC, her defence counsel, told the court in March that Riggi was "in the midst of an acute stress reaction" at the time of the murders.
"Theresa Riggi is not evil, she is not wicked, she is not a monster. If it is possible to love one's children too much, she loved them too much. [She] believed the children and she were safer together in death than they ever could be in life," he said.
The court heard in March that Riggi had been due to attend a hearing on the children's future the day before they were killed. The court of session, Scotland's civil court, had already seized Riggi's passport and appointed a child psychologist.
Alex Prentice QC, for the prosecution, said that several days before the deaths, she had told a friend that things were so bad he would "hear about it on the national news". Two days before the explosion, Riggi had accused her husband during a telephone conversation of being in collusion with their solicitors and asked if he would take the children away. After he told her she "left him no choice", Riggi retorted, "say goodbye, then", and hung up the phone.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

FILICIDE: Florida: Casey Anthony, accused of killing her young child in 2008

A Florida Judge will decide on which forensic evidence can be permitted in the first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony, a mother accused of killing her daughter, Caylee, in a 2008 high profile event. The trial is scheduled for May 17.
This case involving Casey Anthony, accused of killing her young child, Caylee, created a nationwide sensation in 2008. In the meantime both the prosecution and defense have been lining up experts on both sides to prepare for the trial that has been postponed several times.The case involving the death of Caylee Anthony continues to attract widespread attention with an entire website devoted to the specifics of the case along with numerous articles and websites that provide details shared with the public. The attraction of the case, according to experts, are the dramatic dynamics that have been related and intimate that Casey killed her daughter in order to live a free and easy life free of the responsibility of caring for a young child.
Caylee’s body was found just a half mile from the home of her grandparents, George and Cindy Anthony, according to media reports in December 2008. She was two years old when she went missing. Caylee had vanished in June, 2008, but neither the mother Casey Anthony, nor the grandparents reported her missing for a month. After Casey was arrested for the killing and charged with first degree murder, the Anthonys appeared on several television programs protesting their daughter’s innocence. This occurred even after duct tape, heart-shaped objects and other evidence pointed to Casey’s guilt, according to the police and prosecutors.
Florida’s Channel 13 News reported today the judge is to make important rulings in case of the evidence prior to the date of the trial. Prosecutors believe the evidence points to the mother’s guilt, so the decisions made by the judge about it will either help or hinder the case against Casey. The evidence the judge will be assessing include a stain found in the trunk of the mother’s car, a heart-shaped sticker found near Caylee’s body, police dog alerts that had indicated a dead body had been in that car around the home of George and Cindy Anthony during the time the child was missing, as well as evidence of an Internet search found on Casey’s computer for instructions in how to make chloroform.
In February 2011 the court decided on the admissibility of portions of evidence on Casey Anthony’s sex life the prosecution maintains points to a level of need for freedom that would permit a mother to kill a child that interfered with it. The Orlando Sentinel has tracked the case against Casey Anthony as well as the search for the body of Caylee, the findings at the time, the evidence and other particulars since the case was first headlined in 2008. Hal Bodoeker has been speculating on why this case draws so much interest and has found several hypotheses, most of which are related to the family dynamics of the case. He had interviewed television executive Scot Safon of HLN, who has been tracking the case since the beginning. Safon’s opinion is this, according to Boedeker’s interview: “It speaks to so many issues, to the responsibility parents have, to the responsibility grandparents have, to the vulnerability of children, to the fact that this could play out in the midst of what might seem a normal family. I think a lot of people find it relatable. They know people like the people in this story, grandparents like the Anthonys, women like Casey, children like Caylee.” Boeder found some of his readers disagreed with Safon's assessment and say they have trouble relating to family members, including the grandparents, who didn’t do more for the child, specifically in the month delay of reporting Caylee’s disappearance.

FILICIDE: Manitoba: Winnipeg mom sentenced to 12 years for killing her daughter

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing her two-year-old daughter inside a Child and Family Services-approved shelter.
The 29-year-old accused pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year and returned to court Tuesday morning to learn her fate.
The Winnipeg Free Press is not publishing her name so details about her extensive history with Child and Family Services (CFS) can be revealed.
She admitted to suffocating her daughter in June 2009 while living inside a women's shelter under the supervision of CFS, which had returned the girl to her care months earlier. She claims she was trying to stop her from crying and never meant to kill her.
The child suffered more than 30 separate injuries to "nearly every portion of the body" in the days before dying. They include several bite marks to her legs and severe bruising on her vagina as a result of being kicked so hard it left a footprint impression.
The mother killed her daughter by placing a hand over her mouth and holding it there for up to two minutes, court was told.
"This was the manifestation of unspeakable brutality and torture," Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Tuesday.
After her child went limp, the mother placed her in a crib and left the room. She sat in her suite at the Native Women's Transition Centre for several hours. Her boyfriend called later that night from Headingley jail, where he was an inmate, and she confessed to what she'd done to their daughter.
The boyfriend urged her to call 911, but she refused. He called the centre and told them what happened. The night supervisor found the girl, called 911 and began CPR. But it was too late.
The mother was arrested and attempted to commit suicide in an interview room by using a string from her sweatpants to hang herself, court was told.
The Crown had asked for the 12 year sentence, while the woman was seeking just five years behind bars. She was given double-time credit of 40 months for the 20 months she has already spent in custody, leaving her with another eight years, eight months on her sentence.
In October 2007, Awasis CFS agency seized the girl after she was born. It obtained a three-month order of guardianship that was extended several times.
By December 2008, CFS was supporting the return of the child to her mother. A 12-month supervision order was granted that was set to expire in December 2009. It required the mother to live at the treatment centre under CFS supervision.
The woman's three other children were seized by CFS. Two older children were made permanent wards of CFS.
She's had a tragic life, defence lawyer Steve Brennan told court. She saw her mother stab her father to death at a drinking party when she was a child. She and her siblings spent years in care and were abused and neglected.
She suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol addiction and borderline personality disorder.

FILICIDE (attempted): Australia: Mother who drove into tree 'tried to kill her children'

Detectives arrested and charged the woman with three counts of attempted murder on Monday after the crash in an outer Adelaide suburb last Friday.
The four occupants of the car sustained minor injuries in the crash, were treated in hospital and have since been discharged.
It is understood the woman had a history of mental health issues, including schizophrenia.
Family contacted yesterday declined to speak to The Australian but expressed their concern over the impact of the case on the children's lives.
In recognition of this, a suppression order was made yesterday in Holden Hill Magistrates Court by magistrate Derek Sprod to protect the identities of the mother and children.
A bail hearing has been scheduled for April 28.

FILICIDE (multiple): Quebec

April 21, 2011
A Montreal mother of two who was pulled from a river with her two young sons has died.
Police spokesman Danny Richer said the 28-year-old woman, who has not been identified, died Wednesday at 1 p.m. The woman's four-year-old son died April 18, 10 days after the apparent murder-suicide attempt.
Police said the boy and his brother had been dragged into the icy waters off the city's north end on April 8. The older boy was tied to the mother's wrist while the baby was in her arms, police said.
They remained in the water for several minutes until a passerby rescued them.
The two-month-old baby is doing well and has been discharged from the hospital, police said. The baby is being cared for by family.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

FILICIDE: Nicole Redhead, back history

Dakota Valkyrie
July 11th, 2009, 04:00 PM
City police have charged a 27-year-old woman with murder in the death of her 20-month-old daughter, the latest young child to die tragically after going through Manitoba's child-welfare system.
No one would say when toddler Jaylene Sanderson Redhead was reunited with her mother Nicole Redhead, who was arrested late Thursday and is charged with second-degree murder.
Jaylene Redhead was once in the care of a Child and Family Services agency but was returned to her mother, a source said yesterday.
Const. Jacqueline Chaput, a police spokeswoman, said the child suffered a form of physical abuse. The child was taken to a Winnipeg hospital and died late June 29.
Carolyn Loeppky, the assistant deputy minister for Child and Family Services, said the correct processes and procedures were followed in the child's case.
Loeppky said the agency, First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority, and Children's Advocate will do their own reviews.

A Winnipeg mother accused of killing her two-year-old daughter had just regained custody of the girl last winter on condition she be supervised by Child and Family Services and live at a local treatment facility, according to court orders obtained by the Free Press.
The 27-year-old woman has a long history with social services, including having two older children seized and made permanent CFS wards.
She was arrested Thursday and charged with second-degree murder following the June 29 death of her youngest child.
Sources say the little girl was injured while living at a treatment centre with her mother.
Women who have experienced domestic violence can live at the centre with their children.
Police said they began investigating after the two-year-old was rushed to hospital late one evening with critical injuries and did not survive.
They have not released a cause of death. A source said the little girl's injuries were not the result of a single incident.
"There was some physical abuse to the child throughout the child's life," said Const. Jacqueline Chaput, Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman.

According to court orders, the Awasis CFS agency seized the girl from hospital immediately after she was born in October 2007.
They obtained a three-month temporary order of guardianship that was extended several times. CFS cited the need for ongoing protection as grounds for the seizure.
By December 2008, CFS was supporting the return of the child to the mother. A 12-month supervision order was granted that was set to expire in December 2009. It required the mother to live at the treatment centre and continue to be under CFS supervision.
According to documents, the mother's history with Awasis CFS began in September 2003 when her then two-year-old son was placed in care under a temporary guardianship order. Child custody court documents were later served on the mother, who was in jail on assault and breach charges.
CFS obtained a permanent order of guardianship in August 2004. The mother's sister was eventually granted custody of the boy in 2005, with the blessing of CFS.
The woman gave birth to her second child in July 2005. CFS immediately seized the boy under a temporary order of guardianship. For months, he didn't have a proper legal name in court documents and was simply referred to as "Baby Boy."
CFS agreed with the child being returned to the mother, but he was quickly taken back into care by November 2005 because of ongoing concerns about protection, according to court documents. A permanent order of guardianship was obtained in October 2006.
Sources say the accused has a tragic family history. Her mother stabbed her father to death during a so-called drinking party when she was just a child. The woman and her siblings subsequently spent several years in care and were exposed to frequent abuse and neglect.
The woman was convicted in 2007 of communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

FILICIDE: Manitoba: Nicole Redhead sentenced for suffocating daughter

CHINTA PUXLEY April 20 2011
A Manitoba woman who, as a child, witnessed her mother kill her father, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars Wednesday for suffocating her own daughter while they were staying at a Winnipeg women's shelter.
Nicole Redhead had already pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 20-month-old Jaylene, who had been in the care of the province and returned to Ms. Redhead shortly before she was killed.
Those who loved the toddler say they are still haunted by her violent death and wonder why nothing was done to prevent it.
“God gave us these kids to look after, not to destroy them,” said Jaylene's grandmother, Sky Sanderson, after sentencing. “Not to beat them to death, not to smother them to death. No, God gave these children to us to look after and to love and cherish them.
“How come nobody heard a little girl crying who could not speak and call for help?”
Court heard Ms. Redhead, 29, had her three children taken away by Child and Family Services but regained custody of Jaylene in 2009. She was in a women's shelter that summer when she became violent with the crying two-year-old.
Ms. Redhead held her hand over her daughter's mouth until Jaylene stopped breathing and then put her back in her crib. She later talked to her boyfriend – who was in jail – over the phone and told him what had happened. He called the shelter but by the time they found the girl and started CPR, it was too late.
During the autopsy, medical examiners found 30 separate bruises over Jaylene's body, including some that had not yet risen to the surface. She had bruising suggesting she had been punched repeatedly in the stomach and adult bite marks on her thigh, court heard.
The case is just one of several that continue to raise questions about Manitoba's troubled child welfare system.
“She was supposed to be supervised,” Ms. Sanderson said, weeping. “Why did nobody come forward? If I was there, I would have kicked the door open and done everything I could to get my granddaughter out of there. But nobody seemed to hear that little girl.”
Jaylene's death followed the horrific case of Phoenix Sinclair – a five-year-old who spent most of her life in foster care and was killed after being returned to her mother Samantha Kematch.
Phoenix's death went unnoticed for months. Ms. Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, were later convicted of first-degree murder. A provincial inquiry into her death has been called.
In another recent case, two-year-old Gage Guimond was removed from a foster home and given to his great-aunt, Shirley Guimond, despite the fact she had a criminal record. The boy was beaten and died after falling down stairs.
In Ms. Redhead's case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Jaylene's death was the culmination of “gruesome abuse.”
“Having already caused the injuries that gave rise to what I was told reasonably would have been cries of pain by the deceased, the accused then placed her hand over the deceased's mouth for between 70 seconds and two minutes,” Mr. Joyal said in his decision.
“One need only count to 70 and reflect upon what it was the accused was doing to a helpless 20-month-old child to realize the utter senselessness of such an act.”
Mr. Joyal acknowledged Ms. Redhead's own “horrific family background,” which included at the age of 9 witnessing her father's murder at the hands of her mother in a “drunken rage.” For two years after, Ms. Redhead bounced around five foster homes. She was abused as a preteen, eventually becoming addicted to crack cocaine and making a living as a prostitute.
“The accused has lived an indescribably difficult life,” he said.
But he said Ms. Redhead didn't take advantage of the support available to her in the women's shelter.
And although she pleaded guilty to the crime, Mr. Joyal said Ms. Redhead hasn't shown any remorse for this “pattern of brutalization” or the death of her daughter. Instead, he said she has blamed the shelter for its lack of support.
Defence lawyer Steven Brennan said they are considering an appeal.
The Crown had asked for a sentence of 12 years, while the defence had suggested a sentence of five to six years with double credit for time she has already served.
Ms. Redhead will serve eight years and eight months in jail after the judge agreed to give her double credit for the 20 months she has already spent behind bars.
Ms. Sanderson doesn't think that is enough.
“I lost what I love and I will never, ever bring her back,” she said, crying. “She was a precious little girl. She was a darling little girl. She was everything to me.”

Sunday, 17 April 2011

FILICIDE (multiple): New York: LaShanda Armstrong

 April 13, 2011: Michael Valkys

What prompted a 25-year-old Newburgh mother to drive into the Hudson River, killing herself and three of her children, remains unclear — but police are investigating whether domestic violence played a role in the tragedy.
Authorities responded to LaShanda Armstrong's city home for a domestic dispute call Tuesday night, but the woman had already left when police arrived. Police believe the minivan entered the river around 8 p.m.
No charges have been filed and police said there is no record of domestic calls to Armstrong's address. The call to police, followed by the deaths, raised questions about what triggered the tragedy.
A family member said Armstrong was not doing well Tuesday. A day care worker said the young mother of four seemed stressed, but not distressed, when she picked up her children that day.
Psychology and domestic violence experts spoke generally about the potential trigger for such a horrific act.
While incidents of women killing themselves and their children are rare, experts said domestic violence victims can become so desperate and fearful of their abusers that they opt to take their own lives — and those of their children.
Such acts can happen if domestic partners threaten to kill or harm their partners and their children — leaving some women to believe that their children would be better off dead than in the care of violent fathers.
Judy Lombardi, director of outreach and support services at Grace Smith House, a women's shelter, said victims "may be in such a desperate state" that they feel the death of their children is "the inevitable outcome anyway."
Tuesday night's incident in Newburgh has again focused the spotlight on domestic violence in the mid-Hudson Valley. Four women have been killed in domestic violence incidents in Dutchess County since July.
Authorities said they received a report of a domestic dispute at Armstrong's home shortly before she drove into the river. Details of that incident were not released. The father of the three dead children was questioned, but police said Tuesday he had not been charged with any crime.
(Page 2 of 2)

Michele McKeon, CEO of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said it is unusual for victims to harm their children — but not unheard of.
McKeon said domestic violence victims often feel threatened and isolated.
"That feeling of isolation is overwhelming," McKeon said. "In a constant state of threat, they will do anything for their own self-protection."
McKeon said domestic violence victims should reach out for help, although doing so can be difficult.
"They need to get help when they feel they are trapped," McKeon said.
Whether Armstrong took her own life and those of her children because she was depressed or overwhelmed by raising them also is unclear.
"Self-destruction is such an act of desperation," said Jacki Brownstein, executive director of the City of Poughkeepsie-based Mental Health America of Dutchess County.
Speaking in general terms about suicide, Brownstein said the act often comes "from a deep source of hopelessness."
Such people often have underlying mental health issues. Some suicides can be triggered by a combination of mental health problems and stress from a specific event.
"Most of the time, events in and of themselves don't lead people to commit suicide," Brownstein said.
She said it is extremely rare for mothers to kill themselves and their children, although there have been cases in which women claimed postpartum depression led them to kill their children.
Armstrong's children ranged in age from 10 years to 11 months.
Brownstein said many women can be depressed after giving birth, or may have trouble bonding with their newborns.

FILICIDE (attempted): Quebec: Good Samaritan prevented murder-suicide involving mother, 2 kids

April 13, 2011
 MONTREAL — A fast-thinking Good Samaritan is being credited with coming to the rescue when a woman in her 30s plunged into a Quebec river Friday night with her two children.

Montreal police say it appears the woman planned to kill herself and the little ones, ages five years and two months, when they entered the water at the Bassin des Pecheurs.

All three remain in hospital in critical condition. Their rescuer, a man in his 20s, was taken to hospital for observation but is said to be in good condition.

"The hypothesis we're working on is of an attempted murder, followed by a suicide attempt," said Montreal police official Raphael Bergeron.

"All the information we've gathered would indicate that the woman slipped herself into the water, bringing her two children with her.

"It's lucky that a Good Samaritan came to their aid."

One witness said the five-year-old boy appeared to have been tied to his mother with a scarf.

Police will be questioning the father of the children to see if he can shed any clues on the woman's state of mind.

FILICIDE (attempted): Kristen LaBrie sentenced for withholding cancer meds from autistic son

April 15, 2011
Cheryl Senter/AP : Kristen LaBrie waiting to hear the judge's sentence today

LAWRENCE -- Kristen LaBrie, the mother who withheld cancer medications from her young autistic son who later died of his illness, was sentenced today to eight to 10 years in state prison for her conviction of attempted murder.
"At the end of the day, Ms. LaBrie’s actions were extended, secretive, and calculated. They were acts that really do chill one’s soul. This type of conduct really does demand punishment, albeit tempered with mercy," Essex Superior Court Judge Richard Welch said as he sentenced LaBrie.

A prosecutor had recommended that LaBrie serve 16 to 17 years in prison, while her defense attorney recommended one year, with a lengthy probation period.
A tearful LaBrie apologized at the sentencing hearing this morning for withholding the medicine from her son Jeremy Fraser. “I am remorseful for my actions and I wish I could have done things differently,” LaBrie told the court. "If I could do it differently, I would because I certainly miss my son every day.”
“I’m just really sorry for all of this, for everything it’s done to my family and everybody,” she said.
LaBrie, 38, who lived in Beverly and Salem, was convicted Tuesday on charges of attempted murder, assault and battery on a disabled person with injury, assault and battery on a child with substantial injury, and reckless endangerment of a child. Welch also sentenced her to five years of probation.
Authorities say her son was diagnosed with a treatable case of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October 2006, just after he turned 7, but Labrie failed to administer chemotherapy. By the time his doctors realized the boy was not taking his medication, his condition had progressed to leukemia. The boy was placed in the custody of his father, then died in a hospice in March 2009 at the age of 9.

"This was a tragic and difficult case," Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said in a statement. "For the Commonwealth this prosecution was always about justice for Jeremy."
The defense had argued that LaBrie was overwhelmed by the pressures of caring for an ailing autistic son.
"Her judgment waned, her objectivity waned, and she made an awful, awful mistake," said defense attorney Kevin James.
But prosecutor Kate MacDougall said, "Jeremy was a child who could not speak for himself who was utterly vulnerable. There was a relationship of sacred trust that was betrayed by this defendant."
Welch said he felt sympathy for LaBrie, noting there was “little doubt that Ms. Labrie was placed in an extremely trying and exhausting situation” and he was certain that sometimes LaBrie felt that she was “confronting these monumental burdens all alone.”
But he said, “What the defendant was charged with and what she was found guilty of and what she did commit was the crime of attempted murder. As difficult as it is for us to understand, she had the specific intent to kill her young son and intentionally withheld potentially lifesaving medication from him in order to accomplish her goal of murder.”
And he said that it was in society’s interest to protect the vulnerable.
“In the last analysis, our society is judged on how we protect the most vulnerable members of that society, the children, the disabled. Jeremy Fraser being a child with moderately severe autism was one of society’s weakest and most beleaguered members. Society has a most significant interest in using the criminal justice system to discourage and prevent substantial injury to such disabled children,” he said.

FILICIDE: Moms killing kids not nearly as rare as we think

It's the headline du jour whenever a horrific case emerges of a mother killing her kids, as Lashanda Armstrong did when she piled her children into her minivan and drove straight into the frigid Hudson River.
Our shock at such stories is, of course, understandable: They seem to go against everything we intuitively feel about the mother-child bond.
But mothers kill their children in this country much more often than most people would realize by simply reading the headlines; by conservative estimates it happens every few days, at least 100 times a year. Experts say more mothers than fathers kill their children under 5 years of age. And some say our reluctance as a society to believe mothers would be capable of killing their offspring is hindering our ability to recognize warning signs, intervene and prevent more tragedies.
And so the problem remains.
"We've learned how to reduce auto fatalities among kids, through seatbelt use. We've learned how to stop kids from strangling on the strings of their hoodies. But with this phenomenon, we struggle," says Jill Korbin, an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University who has studied mothers who kill children. "The solution is not so readily apparent."
How common is filicide, or killing one's child, among mothers? Finding accurate records is nearly impossible, experts say. One problem is classification: The legal disposition of these cases varies enormously. Also, many cases doubtless go unreported or undetected, such as very young mothers who kill their newborns by smothering them or drowning them in a toilet after hiding the entire pregnancy.
"I'd say a mother kills a child in this country once every three days, and that's a low estimate," says Cheryl Meyer, co-author of "Mothers Who Kill Their Children."
Several databases track such killings but do not separate mothers from fathers or stepfathers. At the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported an estimated 1,740 child fatalities — meaning when a child dies from an injury caused by abuse or neglect — in 2008.
And according to numbers compiled from 16 states by the National Violent Death Reporting System at the CDC Injury Center, 130 children were killed in those states by a parent in 2008, the last year for which numbers were available.
"The horrific stories make the headlines, so we believe it hardly ever happens," says Meyer, a professor of psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. "But it's not a rare thing."
Meyer and co-author Michelle Oberman interviewed women at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. They found that of 1,800 women at the prison, 80 were there for killing their children.
It's also a phenomenon that defies neat patterns: It cuts across boundaries of class, race and socio-economic status. Oberman and Meyer came up with five categories: filicide related to an ignored pregnancy; abuse-related; neglect-related; assisted or coerced filicide (such as when a partner forces the killing); and purposeful filicide with the mother acting alone.
Different as these cases are, though, there are some factors that link the poor teen mother who kills her baby in a bathroom with an older, wealthier mother, and one of them, experts say, is isolation.
"These women almost always feel alone, with a total lack of emotional support," says Lita Linzer Schwartz, a professor emeritus of psychology and women's studies at Penn State, and co-author of "Endangered Children."
Schwartz says women are often not checked for mental illness after their crimes, and that is unfortunate.
"Women need better treatment not only before, but after," she says. "They get tormented in prison, when often what they need is psychological care."
The issue of mental illness is a tricky one. Some women are obviously seriously ill — for example, Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children, one by one, in the bath in 2001, believing she was saving them from the devil. After first being convicted of capital murder, she was found innocent by reason of insanity and remains in a mental institution.
But Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, says cases are not always so obvious — sometimes depression is enough to send a woman over the edge. "Almost all these women are not in their right minds (when they commit these acts)," she says. "The debate is whether they're sick enough to be called insane."
Besides isolation, another frequent similarity in the cases is a split with the father of the children. "So often there is an impending death or divorce or breakup," Meyer says.
In the case of Armstrong, the 25-year-old mother had apparently argued with the father of three of her young children — about his cheating, according to the woman's surviving son — just before driving into the river on Tuesday in Newburgh, N.Y. (Her 10-year-old son climbed out a window and survived. Three children, ages 11 months to 5 years, died.)
This was one of those cases where the mother was committing suicide and decided to take the kids with her. To rational observers, there is nothing more perverse. But in the logic of many these mothers, experts say, they are protecting their children by taking them along. Armstrong's surviving son told a woman who helped him that his mother had told the kids: "If I'm going to die, you're all going to die with me."
Experts have heard that many times before.
"We see cases where the mother thinks the child would be better off in heaven than on this miserable earth," for example with an abusive father, says Schwartz. "They think it's a good deed, a blessing."
A good deed — performed by a good mother. "It's how the sick mother sees herself being a good mother," says Oberman. "Once she decides she can't bear the pain anymore, she thinks, 'what would a good mother do?'"
Korbin, the anthropologist, says in prison interviews she conducted, some women who had killed their children were still certain they were good mothers. And it's that very ideal of being a "good mother" that is holding our society back from taking preventive action or intervening in a potentially abusive situation before it's too late, Korbin says.
"Often the people around these women will minimize a troubling instance that they see, saying, 'Well, she's a good mother.' We err on the side of being supportive of women as being good mothers, where we should be taking seriously any instance where a mother OR father seems to be having trouble parenting. ANY instance of child maltreatment is serious."
In fact, Armstrong's aunt told reporters that her niece "was a good mother. She was going through some stuff."
Meyer, for one, is angry that the people around Armstrong didn't take heed of the warning signs earlier.
"To me this is a textbook case," she says. "This woman was completely overwhelmed. Almost always, you can find people who say, 'I knew something was wrong.' This did not come out of the blue. I say shame on the people who saw signs and didn't do anything. This is your responsibility, too."
Not that it is easy to know when and how to raise an alarm bell. "I think often people just don't know what to do," says Korbin.
But, she adds, it doesn't help to gape at a few of the more shocking cases and then move on, without recognizing the scope of the problem and the factors that link many of these cases.
"People focus on the spectacular cases — and they are spectacular," she says. "But that means another few kids will die over the next few days without much notice, and that is very sad."

Saturday, 16 April 2011

FETICIDE: more on Bei Bei Shuai

Woman who attempted suicide while pregnant is accused of murder. Prosecution would be a 'significant step' towards abortion being outlawed, says lawyer for pregnant women's group

Bei Bei Shuai is being held in jail in Indianapolis. Photograph: Michael Conroy/AP
A woman accused of murdering her four-day-old baby girl by trying to kill herself with rat poison while pregnant has become a cause célèbre for US women's groups and civil liberties organisations.
Bei Bei Shuai, 34, a restaurant owner who moved to the US from China 10 years ago, was pregnant and planning to marry her boyfriend until she learned late last year that he was already married and he would be abandoning her.
A few days later, on 23 December, she went to a hardware store, bought rat poison pellets, went back to her flat in Indianapolis and swallowed some. But she did not die immediately and was persuaded by friends to go to hospital.
She was given treatment to counteract the poison and gave birth on New Year's Eve, but her daughter, Angel, suffered seizures and died after four days.
Shuai then had a second breakdown and spent a month in a psychiatric ward, after which she left to stay with friends and began rebuilding her life.
But in March she was arrested and charged with murder and attempted foeticide. She now faces life imprisonment.
"This case has huge implications for pregnant women, not only in Indiana but across the country," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"If we allowed the state to put a woman in jail for anything that could pose a risk to her pregnancy, there would be nothing to stop the police putting in jail a woman who has a drink of wine or who smokes. So where do you draw the line?"
Kolbi-Molinas said there had been an alarming rise in the number of such cases across the US. Some women's groups put the rise down to pressure on prosecutors from anti-abortion groups.
Shuai has been held in Marion County jail, Indianapolis, where she is segregated from other prisoners. She was last in court for a bail hearing on Wednesday but the judge, Sheila Carlisle, has not yet ruled whether she will be kept in custody. Carlisle is expected to begin hearing a motion for the case's dismissal next month.
Linda Pence, Shuai's lawyer, described the decision to prosecute her as "horrible" and "outrageous". She disputes the prosecution's claim that the baby died from rat poison, saying that Shuai received a host of medicines at the hospital, many of which could have caused the death.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) group is helping to mount the defence.
Kathrine Jack, a lawyer with the NAPW, who meets Shuai about once a week, said that after the initial suicide attempt, she had regained hope. "She has been on a rollercoaster," said the lawyer, who argued that women such as Shuai should, rather than being locked up, receive medical and psychiatric help.
Jack, who has been involved in dozens of similar cases where women were charged as a result of incidents while pregnant, said: "Prosecutions like this are increasing in the US and are a result of anti-abortion rhetoric and movements that seek to give the foetus rights above and beyond those of women.
"If it was allowed to stand, it would not outlaw abortion right away but it would be a significant step along the way."
Dave Rimstidt, part of the prosecution team, said careful consideration had gone into the decision to charge Shuai.
"This is a very unique case. Every charging decision is very difficult and goes through a process where we consider all the facts, all the circumstances, and under this situation, we believe we've charged the two charges we can prove," he said.
Utah, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and South Carolina are among states to have pressed ahead with cases involving pregnant women and their foetuses, most of which have related to women taking illegal drugs during pregnancy.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

FILICIDE (multiple): New York: Lashanda Armstrong drives van and children into Hudson River

 Apr 13 2011
NEWBURGH, N.Y. — A 10-year-old boy escaped through the window of a minivan and swam to shore to get help just as his mother drove the van into New York's Hudson River, killing herself and three other children, police said Wednesday. Lashanda Armstrong, 25, drove the minivan into the river off a boat ramp in the city of Newburgh about 8 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after a domestic incident, police said. The van went into the river just six blocks from where the family lived in this faded city about 100 kilometres north of New York City. Fire Chief Michael Vatter said a passer-by saw Lashaun Armstrong come out of the river, picked up the soaking wet boy and took him to a nearby fire department. Vatter said the boy was so distraught that he had difficulty talking but ultimately told firefighters what happened. Rescuers went immediately to the river but it was too late to save the four victims. In the van with Lashanda Armstrong were Landon Pierre, 5, Lance Pierre, 2, and 11-month-old Lainaina Pierre, police said. Her husband and the father of the three dead children, Jean Pierre, was questioned. Police would not give details of the interview or say if the father had been charged with anything. Shortly before she drove the van into the river, a relative called police to report a domestic incident at Armstrong's apartment. By the time police got there, Armstrong and her children were gone. They said there was no history of domestic violence at the address. Firefighters and police officers responded to the 7 C river with boats. Divers searched for the minivan for about an hour before finding it submerged in 3 metres of water about 25 metres offshore. They used a heavy-duty tow truck to pull it up the boat ramp and onto land. Everyone inside was dead. The relative who called police, Lashanda Armstrong's aunt Angela Gilliam, told reporters that she spoke to her niece earlier Tuesday and she was “not too good.” Gilliam later called police in Newburgh about her niece's well-being. Police acknowledge they got a call about a domestic incident but provided no details. By the time police got there, Armstrong had already taken the fatal plunge with her children. Gilliam said the 10-year-old boy who survived is “doing good” and is “taking it all in.” Armstrong lived in an apartment in a gritty part of this humble river city. Several neighbours on Wednesday recalled her as an attentive mother who balanced care of her children with an outside job. They were shocked by the news. “She was a very good mom,” said Tina Claybourne, who lives nearby. “She took care of her kids. She always was with her kids.” Neighbours said they did not know the woman's name or where she worked. They said the children seemed energetic and happy and would play on the block and ride bikes. “You know kids, they make noise, they play around,” said Shantay Means, a downstairs neighbour. The boat ramp was unguarded by gate or chain. There was no sign that anything tragic had happened save for a single teddy bear left at the end of a dock that runs alongside the boat ramp. Newburgh, which has about 30,000 residents, sits on the western shore of the part of the river that runs south through New York state and eventually splits New York and New Jersey. A similar incident occurred in 2006, about 30 kilometres south of Newburgh. In 2007, Victor Han, of Queens, was sentenced to three years of probation after pleading guilty to child endangerment. Han admitted he knew he was putting his daughters at risk when he stepped out of the family minivan on Bear Mountain in June 2006, leaving them with their mother, 35-year-old Hejin Han. She then drove the Honda Odyssey off a 300-foot drop, killing herself. The mother was killed but the children somehow survived the plunge. It's also reminiscent of the case of a South Carolina woman who drowned her young sons in 1994. Susan Smith is serving a life sentence for killing 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex by strapping them into their car seats and driving the car into a pond. Smith originally claimed she was carjacked before the truth came out.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

FILICIDE: Australia

Yuri Joakimidis, 7 April 2011
Family violence has, in recent years, been subjected to a very short sighted restricted analysis that is based on stereotypes of victims and abusers. Typically, the "victim" is depicted as a timid, oppressed female and the abuser is portrayed as a brutish, aggressive male that often assaults or even murders children. But such gender stereotypes are dangerous, and leave groups of people suffering and vulnerable because they do not fit the pigeon hole prescriptions that dominate family violence discourse and support organisations in our country.
As it should be the homicide of children is considered to be a detestable crime in our community where they are seen as being very vulnerable and especially susceptible to abduction, physical and sexual assault and murder.
Maternal filicide, defined as child murder by mothers, is a problem that transcends national boundaries. Mothers who kill their children often use the defence of depression or insanity, but are all mothers who kill their children insane? The short answer is “No,” and some courts are beginning to recognise that fact as the following transcribed media accounts of recent criminal proceedings reveal:
“Donna Fitchett called the murder of her two boys her 'greatest act of love', but in sentencing late last year Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Curtain told her it was her 'greatest act of betrayal'.
“Fitchett drugged, smothered and strangled Thomas Fitchett, 11, and his brother Matthew, 9, at their Balwyn home in September 2005. Justice Curtain sentenced Fitchett to 27 years in jail, with a non-parole period of 18 years.“...
“Her defence argued she was mentally diminished at the time of the killings and thought what she was doing was right. But Justice Curtain rejected that argument because Fitchett had written a note detailing the crime.“ “A 43-year-old Brisbane woman, who could not be identified, was found guilty after a trial in the Supreme Court in Brisbane earlier last year of murdering her six-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter at their home at Sandstone Point, near Bribie Island. She was also found guilty of the attempted murder of her 16-year-old son, and was sentenced to life in jail.“
“The mother gave the children crushed sleeping tablets before putting them in the back seat of the car, attaching a garden hose to the exhaust, and switching on the ignition. The bodies of the children, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, were found on November 22, 2002.”
“During the trial, the Brisbane court was told the mother decided to kill herself and the children as an act of revenge towards her ex-husband. She had been angry, the court was told, after being issued with a Family Court order stating they would spend Christmas Day with their dad.”
“The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed her challenge of the murder conviction because the woman had not proved she was unable to control her actions.“
("Mum who gassed children loses appeal", by Christine Flatley, The Australian, December 2010).
It has been said that the catalyst for the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2010 was the tragic 2009 death of little Darcey Freeman, at the hands of her father. According to critics of current family law favouring shared parenting including Debbie Kirkwood from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre fathers pose a risk to their children and the selected use of instances where fathers have harmed their children strongly suggests a blinkered prejudice. (see, "Men's Murderous Revenge", Debbie Kirkwood, SMH March 31 2011).
However, they don't. When the divorcing mother Gabriela Garcia jumped off the same Melbourne bridge just seven months earlier, with her 22 month old baby son Oliver there were no tortured calls for a public inquiry. The silence regarding the death of this infant boy by the supposed champions of children's interests was and still is deafening.
The heartwrenching murders of Darcey Freeman and Oliver Garcia are the product of despair or incomprehensible madness and should not be a catalyst for gender wars. To borrow the common-sense words of social commentator Bettina Arndt " Neither sex has a monopoly on vice or virtue."
And to set the record straight. Do I have any sympathy for the Arthur Freeman's or Gabriela Garcia's of this world? Not one bit. Nothing can ever excuse the murder of the innocent.
The Howard government's 2006 shared parenting legislation specifically refers to "the need to protect the child from the risk of physical or psychological harm caused by family violence or child abuse" [s60CC 2(b)]. The legislation also clearly establishes that where shared care has been ordered by a court, the presumption of shared parental responsibility is dependent on there being no family violence or child abuse [s61DA 2(a)]. Putting a child into a possibly violent situation contradicts the law. So what are the one sided exaggerations peddled by shared parenting detractors all about?
Despite the posturing I suggest the motivation is not a primary concern on the safety of children but is grounded in a mean-spirited anti father ideology that assumes the worst behaviour of the most extreme individual is the norm. Family law should not be based on this presumption of pathology.
Every child centred healthy individual knows that children want and have a right to the love of both their parents in equal measure. It is past time to entrench this principle in law.
The article "When Dads Get Deadly" (Christine Jackman, Australian, 17 September 2003) provides chilling statistics on filicide that challenge conventional wisdom.
Referring to a recent Sydney murder/suicide tragedy Christine Jackman writes:
[D]espite the disproportionate amount of publicity these crimes attract when they occur; murder-suicides committed by a father are among the rarest forms of child homicide. Australian Institute of Criminology statistics show there were 270 child homicide incidents in Australia from July 1989 to June 1999, involving 287 identified offenders and resulting in the deaths of 316 children under 15…
When children (younger than 15) are killed in Australia, they are most likely to be killed by a family member (66.9 per cent), primarily a parent (94.2 per cent)," AIC research analyst Jenny Mouzos says in her report 'Homicidal Encounters.' Although fathers are responsible for most cases of filicide these numbers are inflated by the number of non-biological fathers who kill children.
When Mouzos crunched figures on the distribution of parents who killed children by gender and biological ties, she found biological mothers posed a more lethal risk to their own. Biological mothers account for about 35 per cent of all filicides (about the same proportion as stepfathers and de factos), while biological fathers account for 29 per cent.
What is more according to Men's Health Australia the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) had cause to correct an error in its National Homicide Monitoring Program 2006-07 Annual Report. "The original report stated that 7 homicides involved a mother and 15 involved male family members. "
The rectified report now states that:
11 homicides involved a mother and 11 homicides involved a male family member. When the 'male family member' category was broken down, 5 perpetrators were biological fathers, while another 5 five were de-facto partners of the mother who lived with the child (one father murdered two children). No child victims were killed by a complete stranger in 2006-07.
Of the 14 offenders who who committed suicide following the 2006-07 homicide incident four (29%) had child victims. In all four cases the offender was the custodial parent (two mothers; two fathers).
The usage of male family member and mother is not a useful way of classifying relationship between a child homicide victim and their offender. In future reports we will employ classifications that provide a more detailed classification of the relationship between child victims and offenders" the AIC acknowledged.
Further, according to a study published in 2009 by the Medical Journal of Australia that examined instances of family homicide/revenge/homicide-suicide in NSW between 1991-2005 men were the perpetrators of child homicide in ten cases while women were the perpetrators in seven instances. Notably, the study did not indicate the offenders biological relationships to the child victims.
With respect to child victimisation inside the boundaries of child abuse coverage by government agencies often a gender-neutral term such as ‘parent’ or ‘caregiver’ is used and there is no further discussion as to whether it was a natural father or natural mother who perpetrated the assaults or neglect. With this problem in mind the decision taken in 1997 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW; Broadbent & Bentley 1997) not to publish data indicating the gender of child abuse perpetrators must be reversed.
The action was taken just one year after the figures were first published in 1996 (968 men and 1138 women). The omission was justified on the wobbly basis that only one state (WA) and two territories (ACT & NT) had furnished statistics and a lack of publishing space (several sentences). Curiously, these lame reasons did not stop the publication of the statistics in 1996. In fact, Angus & Hall (AIHW; 1996) observed that the information base provide an extra dimension to data previously presented.
Should the AIHW decision represents one-sided reporting then such slanted views have no place in the Australian landscape and in scientific endeavours. Furthermore, why do state child protection annual reports fail to provide information on the numbers of natural mother and natural father victimisers in each category of established child maltreatment. The designating of perpetrators as "parent" or "non parent" does not suffice and it should not require a Freedom of Information (FIO) request before the statistics are released as was the case in WA. And yes, when the data was disclosed the figures finished off the widely peddled myth that natural fathers present the major risk for their children’s well-being.
The Western Australian figures shed light on who is likely to abuse children in families and are in line with overseas findings. The data show there were 1505 substantiations of child abuse in WA during the period 2007-8. Natural parents were responsible for 37% of total cases. Of these, mothers are identified as the perpetrator of neglect and abuse in a total of 73% of verified cases.
 Plainly, the censoring of such vital data by most state and federal authorities can negatively impact on the formation of child abuse policy and the appropriate allocation of scant resources. In the U.S child protection authorities are not so coy as their local counterparts and as a matter of routine publish the information for public and legislative consumption.

FILICIDE (attempted): Colorado: Samantha Salaz

Colorado Springs police said Samantha Salaz, 19, and her aunt, Mary Horsley, 50, were arrested on Thursday in connection with the attempted murder and felony child abuse of Salaz' 20-month-old daughter, Alexis Salaz.
KRDO NewsChannel 13 obtained a copy of the probable cause arrest affidavit and it says the girl was pronounced dead at the hospital. However, life-saving efforts continued and Alexis was later revived.
Police said Alexis was found unconscious and not breathing shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday at 2423 Farragut Ave. Police were told Alexis had drowned in the toilet. Alexis was taken to Memorial's pediatric intensive care unit and is in critical condition, according to police.

Police said their investigation revealed the child's injuries were intentional and not accidental. According to the affidavit, investigators found evidence that Alexis' wrists, ankles, back and mouth had been taped. She also had bruises on her legs, arms, face and forehead.
The affidavit explains that Brandon Salaz, 7, a male child in the home, alerted the family by saying, "Lexie could talk but now she can't, she is a different color, something is wrong." Her mother and aunt said they were sleeping at the time.
Alexis' mother said she found her daughter on the bathroom floor, partially in the shower. The women called for help and performed CPR on the girl until paramedics arrived.
Mary Elliott, a neighbor across the street, said she saw Alexis being taken to an ambulance. "I thought she was a doll on someone's arm," Elliott said. "I didn't have my glasses on."
In a later police interview, Samantha Salaz said she found Alexis lying in the shower face up with strips of electrical tape across her eyes and mouth, and binding her wrists and ankles. Salaz said cold water was splashing on her daughter's face.
Salaz also told police Horsley dragged Alexis across the floor by the ankles, then picked up the child and dropped her on her head. Salzaz said Horsley often placed Alexis in the shower to discipline her.
Salaz explained the bruises on Alexis by saying the child is clumsy and falls often. Salaz also accused Horsley of hitting Alexis with a belt, a brush and a spatula. Salaz said she didn't try to interfere with the treatment because Horsley owns the home and was in charge.
Brandon told police Horsley got mad at Alexis when the toddler knocked over her aunt's drink, and said he would be in trouble from Horsley if he ever told anyone about what happened to Alexis.
Brandon's sister, Cheyenne, 6, also was in the home and said Horsley applied tape to Alexis.
During a court appearance at the El Paso County Jail on Friday, Samantha Salaz and Horsley heard the charges against them. Horsley said, "I was nowhere near the child at the time of this." A judge told her to respond only to questions asked.

INFANTICIDE: South Africa: Mapaseka Seoka killed 9 day old daughter with scissors

Apr 4, 2011 | Ntwaagae Seleka
Judge Mbha sentenced Mapaseka Seoka, 28, to 12 years in jail after she pleaded guilty to killing her 9 -day-old daughter Ditlhoriso.
Half of the sentence was suspended for five years on condition that she is not convicted of assault, abuse or killing a child.
On March 8 Seoka told the court how she stabbed her daughter multiple times with a pair of scissors.
She said on August 18 2008 she took Ditlhoriso to an open veld in Newclare, where she killed the baby.
Seoka said she could not remember how many times she stabbed her child.
According to a postmortem report read by Mbha, Ditlhoriso sustained numerous wounds to her throat and ribs.
"I ask myself what was going on in your mind when you repeatedly stabbed a beautiful child using brutal force. Even animals don't behave that way with their young.
"My mind gets boggled with every stab that was inflicted by her mother," Mbha said.
Seoka was initially charged with killing her two children, her 14-month-old son Lebohang and Ditlhoriso. Charges against her for the murder of Lebohang were provisionally withdrawn pending further investigation.
"Considering the cruel and vicious way the child was killed, I have considered that direct imprisonment is suitable for you.
"The explanation that you had no means of supporting the baby and that the father of the child had left you for another woman does not justify your conduct," Mbha said.
Seoka's 9-month-old son Onkemetse will be left in the care of her mother and sister while she serves her sentence in jail

Friday, 8 April 2011

FILICIDE: New York City: Carlotta Brett-Pierce

Marchella Pierce, a 4-year-old girl who weighed just 18 pounds, was found dead in her family's Brooklyn apartment, on Sept. 2, 2010. The girl's mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, has been charged with second-degree assault and endangering the welfare of the child after her body was found bruised and severely malnourished.
In a report released in early October, the New York's child welfare agency found that the girl apparently had gone months without a visit from child welfare workers assigned to monitor her well-being, despite indications that she could be at risk.
The problems in the Marchella Pierce case extended to an outside health care provider hired by the city to monitor her family until its contract expired in June 2010.
The girl was born more than three months prematurely, had severely underdeveloped lungs and spent most of her life in hospitals. A twin sister died at birth. Marchella needed the help of a tracheal tube when she was released from the hospital in February.
A preliminary report outlines a series of failures by the agency and the private provider that missed or ignored signals that the girl's mother — who had a known history of substance abuse and who continued to fail drug tests even after the agency became involved with the family — seemed incapable of tending to her daughter's serious medical needs.

FILICIDE: New York City: Death of Marchella Pierce: When Blame Isn’t Enough

THE death of Marchella Pierce, a 4-year-old girl in Brooklyn who was beaten, malnourished and tied to a bed, has again aroused anger over child welfare in New York City. Her mother stands accused of murder, and a caseworker and a supervisor were charged last month with criminally negligent homicide.
Reading about Marchella’s death in September brought back painful memories. When I was the director of child welfare in the District of Columbia I often woke up at 3 a.m., fearing all that could go wrong. During my tenure, there were increases in adoptions and speedier investigations, and more children went to live with foster families rather than in institutions. But substandard care and terrible cases also continued.
Because there is so much to fix, improvements and calamities can happen simultaneously in long-troubled child welfare systems. In Washington, where I took over from a court-appointed receiver, the work ranged from reducing caseloads to overhauling information technology, contracting, licensing and personnel systems. On good days, we reminded ourselves that it was all worth it. But when a child was hurt or killed, we often reacted defensively, fearing that a misdirected public outcry could undercut our plans for reform.
After I left that job, I kept looking for solutions. For ideas, I examined institutions like airlines and some hospitals that have reduced deaths and injuries. Through rigorous data analysis, they have developed systemic approaches to safety, focusing on clear communication, minimum-staffing requirements and “fail-safe” strategies to reduce the consequences of inevitable human error. Such strategies — including checklists and passing on information at crucial moments like shift changes — can be applied to protecting children.
Findings from the Institute of Medicine, the Commonwealth Fund and other organizations point to several lessons from safety initiatives in these fields:
• You can’t fix a systemwide problem by simply blaming or retraining individuals. When systems are broken, workers respond in counterproductive ways. They try “workarounds,” as when a nurse guesses at a doctor’s unreadable handwriting on a prescription because she is afraid to ask. Or they withhold information to avoid responsibility, wanting someone else to make a decision even if it is wrong. Blaming individuals can also make it harder to recruit and keep the most qualified employees. (In child welfare, talented caseworkers too often give up on investigating troubled families and gravitate to handling adoptions.)
• You can’t learn what’s wrong with the system from just one case. Understanding what to fix requires analyzing many cases, including deaths, injuries and “near misses.” That is why airline safety analysts collect information about maintenance problems and planes that come too close to each other on the runways or in the air, and why hospitals study medication errors. Looking just at Marchella’s death focuses attention on the caseworker, while looking at more cases gets us closer to understanding trends and patterns.
• You can’t understand problems and fix them unless you create a culture in which employees share information without fear. The Department of Veterans Affairs increased reporting of potentially dangerous errors by promising hospital staff members they would not be punished unless the mistake was intentional or criminal or involved substance abuse. Pilots who anonymously report an unsafe episode receive a number they can use in an investigation to show that they made a report, shielding them from punishment in most circumstances.
These insights can yield simple fixes. In 2005, for example, the Illinois inspector general found that a failure to identify parents’ mental health and substance abuse problems was a common feature in child deaths. Harried caseworkers who had to substantiate a complaint of abuse or neglect didn’t have enough time to thoroughly investigate whether drug addiction and mental illness were involved. When state forms required them to choose yes or no in those first hectic days, they chose no — and often no one came back to help the families. So the inspector general urged the state to give workers another option, one that would indicate a need for continuing assessment in these in-between cases.
But we need to aim even higher. The Department of Health and Human Services should create a national commission to review deaths and serious injuries to children from abuse and neglect. Among other things, it should examine practices in sectors with strong safety records; look at deficiencies in access by parents to drug counseling and psychiatric care; and recommend procedures for caseworkers to report mistakes anonymously without getting blamed.
For too long, we have had a stalemate: Child welfare experts, worried that anger over high-profile deaths often leads to the unnecessary removal of children from their homes to an overloaded foster care system, are reluctant to talk about systemic safety improvements. Meanwhile, the number of children who die each year from abuse or neglect in the United States — an estimated 1,770 in 2009, or 2.3 deaths for every 100,000 children — has been rising.
There is a way out. Making sweeping policy changes and scapegoating individuals are not the best way to enhance safety, but rather, clear-headed, evidence-driven examination of the resources, conditions and communication that guide decision-making in the workplace. That way Marchella’s death will not become just another example of the cycle of outrage and failure.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

FILICIDE: California: Rosondra Marie Clay killed 5 year old disabled son

April 11 2011
VICTORVILLE (AP) —  A mother accused of neglecting and starving her disabled son pleaded guilty Friday to involuntary manslaughter in the boy’s death and will be sentenced to time already served, the Victorville Daily Press reported.
Rosondra Marie Clay, 30, accepted an offer to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of 5-year-old Kevin Baldwin and Superior Court Judge Jules Fleuret accepted the plea deal Friday, the newspaper reported.
Clay has already served ten months in jail and will be released April 29 when she is sentenced to eleven months’ time served.
Baldwin had cerebral palsy and weighed just 15 pounds when he died from severe malnutrition at the age of 5 in July 2008.
“It’s one of those cases, there was strong evidence she wasn’t guilty of anything,” Deputy Public Defender David Sanders, Clay’s attorney told the newspaper. “At the same time, it’s one of those cases if you had gone to trial, because it’s an emotional case, a jury could have found her guilty of second-degree murder.”
Clay had been charged with murder and could have faced up to 25 years to life in prison, if convicted.
Sanders said Child Protective Services agents visited their house three days before the child’s death and found nothing wrong with him.
Baldwin had severe spastic cerebral palsy and he had no muscular control, Sanders told the newspaper. It was difficult to feed the child because he had no control over his tongue, Sanders said.
Because of Baldwin’s medical condition, he was receiving assistance from various county agencies.

INFANTICIDE: China: Casualties of China’s One Child Policy

LESLEY DOWNER: April 1, 2011 Lesley Downer is a British journalist who writes on Asia. Her latest book is a novel, “The Courtesan and the Samurai.”
Jane Brown:
In 1989, the Chinese writer and broadcaster Xinran was in a remote mountain village in Shandong Province having dinner with the headman when she heard cries from an adjoining room, where his daughter-in-law was giving birth. A while later, as the midwife collected her fee, Xinran noticed a movement in the slops bucket. “To my absolute horror,” she recalls, “I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail.” But she was the only one who was shocked. “It’s not a child,” the headman’s wife told her. “If it was, we’d be looking after it, wouldn’t we? It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it.”
The traditional Chinese belief that, as Xinran puts it, “you do not count as a human being unless you have a son” to carry on the family line has been severely intensified by the Communist government’s one-child policy, promulgated in 1979 in an effort to control the country’s population growth. Since having more than one child became illegal in many areas, families choose to get rid of girl after girl until the desired male child is born.
Xinran sees painful evidence of this on a train trip when she meets a husband traveling with his wife and their little daughter. As the train is leaving the station, she looks out the window and sees the child sitting alone on the platform. Later she discovers that these seemingly devoted parents have abandoned their daughter — the fourth to be jettisoned in this way — in hopes that the next child the mother bears will be a boy. The Chinese call such people “extra birth guerrillas,” since they are trying to start over in places where no one will know them or their family history.
The author of “The Good Women of China” and other books that have been translated into English, Xinran was a radio journalist in Nanjing until moving to Britain in 1997. Before her departure, her program for women, “Words on the Night Breeze,” had millions of listeners: at that time, few Chinese owned televisions and many were illiterate, so radio journalists reached far more people than their colleagues on television or at newspapers. Xinran received hundreds of letters and phone calls, and told some of her correspondents’ harrowing stories on air.
Her program — and now this book —gave a voice to some of the poorest women in Chinese society, whose stories would otherwise never be heard. Among them are women like Kumei, a dishwasher who twice tried to kill herself because she’d been forced to drown her baby daughters. When a child is born, Kumei explains, the midwife prepares a bowl of warm water — called Killing Trouble water, for drowning the child if it’s a girl, or Watering the Roots bath, for washing him if it’s a boy.
Xinran also investigates Chinese orphanages, for many of which the word “Dickensian” would be totally inadequate. The children abandoned there are almost always girls, and they regularly arrive with burns between their legs, marks made as the midwife holds the newborn under an oil lamp to check her sex. Mothers forced to abandon their babies often leave mementos in their clothing, hoping the children will be able to trace them later on, but the orphanages routinely throw these sad tokens away.
“Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother” is full of heart-rending tales. They are raw and shocking, simply told and augmented with passages that provide information about matters like the one-child policy, the history of orphanages and Chinese adoption laws.
Xinran (who has founded a charity called the Mothers’ Bridge of Love, for Western families who adopt Chinese children) is so clearly well intentioned that it seems churlish to snipe at her. Nevertheless, sometimes her repeated references to her own emotional reactions, like breaking down in tears because her own mother never hugged her, become a little hard to take. One can imagine her being very comfortable on Oprah Winfrey’s sofa. She also reprints gushing letters sent to her by adoptive mothers. Then again, it’s quite possible that Xinran means for her book to be judged not as a piece of literature but as a polemic. And it is a very powerful polemic indeed.